Canada's Not Bad, Eh?
By Emily Wayne
Halfway through my first legal beer (so what if I had to leave the country for it?), I came to the conclusion that Canada gets a bad rap. Contrary to popular stereotypes, my waitress doesn’t have a mullet and there’s no moose on the menu. Everyone is friendly (really, everyone), I’ve only heard one Celine Dion song, and there’s not a flannel hat in sight.
Oh, and did I mention I can drink here?
Welcome to Kingston, Ontario. Nestled two and a half hours north of ‘Cuse on the St. Lawrence River, this “Limestone City” actually has a lot in common with Canada’s favorite hairstyle — its business in the front and party in the back. It’s easy enough to get to Kingston. Take Interstate-81 North until you hit another country. Hand over your passport and, provided they let you in, continue on to Provincial Route 401 West. Take Exit 623 toward Kingston, turn left onto Provincial Route 15, and then right on Provincial Route 2. It’ll turn into Ontario Street, which leads you into the heart of Kingston.
Then prepare to have your illusions of Canada shattered into a million maple-leaf-shaped pieces. Kingston seems like a place that’s still struggling to identify itself, but it’s having a damn good time in the process. The old-world architecture is charming and traditional, but the atmosphere is that of peace, love, and harmony, dude. Another stereotype defeated — Canadians can be hippies too.
Princess Street, one of many shopping districts, is a thriving example of the hippie vibe. You can find everything from eco-friendly shops to Tim Horton’s (think Canadian Starbucks). Karma Wear, at 328 Princess St. is, according to its signs, a “company born out of frustration” and specializes in “sustainable fashion.” Shopping for bamboo dresses and hemp shirts may be green, but it won’t save you any green. Buying organic isn’t cheap in the United States, and the prices in Canada aren’t any better.
Kingston has a thrift store feel; shop owners welcome customers to browse around, even without buying. There’s a mix of ethnic stores and markets, but it’s hardly a clash. The independent Asian grocery store looks right at home next to shops like Hemporium, while stores specializing in Tibetan and Buddhist wares mesh with the vintage record shops.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head over to Kingston Brewing Company at 34 Clarence St. This alehouse serves moderately-priced pub fare with a few surprises. A “Ploughperson’s Lunch,” which sets you back about $12.50, consists of a cup of the soup-du-jour, Ontario cheeses, and fresh fruit. If you’re looking for something less refined, go for the “Ghetto Wings,” barbeque chicken wings with a kick that will leave you running for Niagara Falls. Wash it all down with a pint or two (or five) of Dragon’s Breath Real Ale. There’s enough beer-a-phernalia on the walls to make any interior decorating frat brother jealous, and the alehouse offers tours of the brewery upon request.
When you’re done, head over to City Hall, where a farmers’ market is held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Farmers and vendors peddle everything from fur-lined leather mittens (OK, so they buy into some stereotypes) to homemade jam and baked goods. Prices are cheap, the food is fresh, and the people will delight in hearing any accent but their own. Revel in being an American novelty before you head back to the homeland. That is, if you ever want to leave, eh?